Ferrell, Sherri, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)
February is National School-Based Health Care Awareness Month. Without receiving much attention, the integration of school-based health centers into West Virginia schools over the last decade has proven extremely effective.
By providing easy access to basic – but often absent – health care services, more students are showing up to class healthy and ready to learn. Healthier children make better students, which is a fundamental mission of these centers.
School-based health centers are like a doctor’s office located on school grounds. With parental consent, these centers provide services like age-appropriate well-child exams, immunizations, diagnosis and treatment of acute illness and injury, chronic disease management, basic laboratory services, health education and guidance, nutrition counseling, basic mental health services, substance-use disorder services, violence prevention education and intervention, and oral health care. Children generally receive these services regardless of their family’s ability to pay since the school-based health center is part of a local Community Health Center.
At their core, these school-based health centers are a partnership between the local community health center, the affiliated school system, and participating parents – all working to make sure kids get what they need to be healthier, more successful students.
And because these centers are located on campus, health-care providers are given the opportunity to work directly and cooperatively with school officials and administrators to become an integral part of the school’s environment.
School-based health centers ensure that students of all ages can get a flu shot, have an annual physical, learn to better manage their asthma or diabetes, or report instances of abuse in a safe, nurturing place. They reside at the intersection of health and education, and are vital to keeping our children from falling through the cracks when it comes to their personal health care needs.
These centers provide important care – primary care, mental health and counseling services, family outreach, and chronic disease management – while overcoming traditional barriers faced by so many families, such as a lack of transportation or the inability to get time off from work, by performing the necessary services where the students already happen to be: at school.
Additionally, most school-based health centers provide services to school personnel. Notably, the availability of such services can reduce absenteeism among teachers, who no longer need to miss work for routine medical care.